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New RHCP, new RHCP album

10/09/2011

The band aren’t keen on talking about it but it’s a fairly well-known secret that during the last decade there’s been some cracks and faults in the oft-notable comradery of the Red Hot Chili Peppers clan. John Frusciante was largely responsible for the band being able to reach the heights they couldn’t have otherwise; both times he joined the band, a period of inspiration and subsequent rise to fame happened. However, he’s also got a keen sense of control and as his ever-increasing influence on the band’s musical endeavours became more and more prominent, the band’s former musical backbone Flea felt his position threatened. Rumours claim that Flea has secretly quit the band more than once because he’s felt his voice in the band has been muted. It’s an ugly side to the band’s otherwise now-classic line-up.

Frusciante quit the band amicably after getting tired to the life of a commercially successful superstar and in order to focus on his solo efforts (where are they!?). Dull surprise – I’m With You is an album where Flea takes the front seat. It’s an album far more driven by rhythm than the last couple of ones and while he’s not slapping the bass like a maniac like back in the days, Flea’s bass is high and in the forefront of the mix and acts as the driving element of nearly every song. It’s further emphasised by the new guitarist Josh Klinghoffer, whose guitaring style is a different beast to Frusciante’s: rather than acting as a leading element, Klinghoffer’s guitar is geared towards filling the gaps between the rhythm and crafting texture, with the occasional spotlight solo in the token solo spots. He’s a good guitarist, his style works for the Peppers and in the best twist, the band aren’t even attempting to fill the John-shaped hole with an identikit approach. About the only thing where Klinghoffer takes a clear nod from Frusciante is backing harmonies (the two also share similarly high-pitched harmony vocals), but even those are far less frequent this time and only appear in certain strategic spots.

Despite only 1/4 of a lineup change, the RHCP on I’m With You is a different and new band, and it’s a slight shame that the band bump into the same speedbump that other new bands do instead of marching onward headstrong after their latest resurrection. Namely, it’s still a band unit learning to adapt to eachother. Perhaps they’re still trying to get out of their songwriting tendencies from the previous albums, but the thing with I’m With You is that it’s an album filled with promise but only the occasional straight-up bullseye. There’s a lot of good things on the album, but only the occasional song keeps the levels high rather than floating between peaks and valleys. Here’s a brilliant verse, there’s an excellent chorus, that guitar part sounds absolutely gorgeous and over here Anthony’s managed to strike a brilliant vocal part, but if only all these had been introduced to eachother at one point rather than left out on their own somewhere else where they’re in a crowd that’s thoroughly acceptable but far from equally inspired. This makes it hard to point out especially noteworthy favourites among the tracks: only here and there do you find a song that keeps up the greatness enough as a whole. On the plus side, there’s also very little in terms of clear throwaways, although in the glorious RHCP tradition there’s always room for some filler: this time the mantle is on “Police Station” that tries its hardest to be the emotional heart of the album but sounds undercooked, as well as the completely throwaway “Goodbye Hooray”. The obvious top hit candidate is the opener “Monarchy of Roses”, possibly the only song on the album that has a chance to ascend to the level of previous album highlights: it starts out with a pound and a roar, almost like a less aggressive rendition of the One Hot Minute opener “Warped” but suddenly takes a turn to a full-blown disco anthem with every amazing thing such anthems contain. Klinghoffer’s backing vocals shine as well. The closer “Dance, Dance, Dance” is a rather excellent slowburner as well which is happy to close the album with a relaxed little groove-out rather than ever exploding into something larger: it sounds relaxed and content with where it is.

That sort of relaxed nature goes for the whole album. It’s not an album that’s going to be much of a discussion-raiser in the future I imagine and it lacks the sort of Big Songs that have cropped up on RHCP albums for the past few decades, but it’s not having a hard time because of it. The band sound like they’re re-energized and even Smith, who’s been a shadow of his former monster drummer self in the past few albums, sounds rejuvenated slightly (though not enough to call it his personal return to form). I adore Frusciante, hold him as one of my favourite things about RHCP and see By the Way, an album completely dictated by him musically, as the band’s greatest offer, but with him gone the band sound looser than in ages. Perhaps it’s because Flea’s finally managed to get rid of the stick up his ass now that he’s in command again. The attitude and the numerous amount of good parts (even if sometimes thrown apart from eachother) are what makes I’m With You a good album. It’s an obvious first go for a new unit, but so was Mother’s Milk was before Blood Sugar Sex Magik and look what happened there.


Monarchy of Roses

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